Bye-Bye Boondoggles

I love boondoggles. What would our jobs be without them? For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it derives from the Latin boonus doggelitus, meaning "room service and HBO."

A boondoggle is a questionable, low-pressure, “Gee-I-probably-shouldn't-be-going-on-this” business trip. None of us are above sin. Remember that two-day class called "Printer Jams: Advanced Troubleshooting?” Or the time you jetted to Jacksonville to exhaustively demo/select your department's screen saver?

To be fair, work is hard. It's gruesome. Who couldn't use an occasional boondoggle? A little Holiday Inn time? A heated pool, a generous per diem and no laundry to fold/dogs to walk/lawns to mow? "Honey, hope everything's okay at home; I really miss you—but gotta go (knock, knock), that's my pancakes and sausage."

But thanks to us technical folk, we've screwed up a really good thing. Boondoggles are an endangered species. Nearing extinction. We are about to boondoggle no more.

Because first we invented the videoconference. That was innocent enough. "Hey, instead of meeting for three fun-filled days in Vegas, why don't we all just buy several billion dollars worth of codec/compression/networking equipment and do it over the airwaves?" Fortunately, blackjack prevailed.

But then the Web-o-conference showed up, and things got a little testy. Demo by net. Meetings by net. Graphics, video, audio, even computer based training. Now we can log on and do it all from the comfort of our own cubicles. Comfort? No breakfast buffet! Maid service! Crullers!!

And now there's groupware, so we can instantly collaborate. Throw ideas online and everyone take a swipe at them. Instead of meeting in San Francisco and hashing it out, it all gets done by wire. Efficiently. Immediately. Kiss that expense-account steak and key lime pie goodbye.

I suppose there is an upside to boondogg-less technology. It eliminates all the incredible hassles of travel. Like airports. And tiny aisle seats designed to comfortably accommodate every part of a traveler except their legs. And the humiliation of having to beg for an extra tenth-of-an-ounce bag of peanuts. And the two-and-a-half-hour runway holds every time it sprinkles in Newark. For the record: I love frequent flier miles. But if they changed it to frequent flier minutes, I'd have a gazillion of them and free trips out the wazoo.

Sadly though, this is another example of high-tech run amok. We couldn't leave well enough alone. With all our PDAs and Java and bandwidth and WANs, we wired the world but buried the boondoggle. Am I more productive? ... Yes. But it comes at a painful price: no more mints on the pillow.

When all the pieces fit into place, truth be told, I like to travel. At least once in a blue moon. But kiss those blue moons goodbye, because the days of the boondoggle are gone, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. No more hotel awards points. No more little complimentary shampoos. Folks, it's back to the daily grind.

On a whim, I recently looked up the definition of "boondoggle"; it said "to do trifling, pointless work." Hey, maybe we can still have boondoggles... they just happen every day.

(Mike Cohn tries to make a living in Atlanta, where it takes two and a half hours just to drive to work.)